Seth Rogov­oy, author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mys­tic, Poet, wrote yes­ter­day about Jew­ish-Amer­i­can musi­cians record­ing Christ­mas music and on Mon­day about Bob Dylan’s Judaism. He is guest-blog­ging all week for MyJew­ish­Learn­ing and the Jew­ish Book Council.

Almost lost in all the com­mo­tion sur­round­ing Bob Dylans new Christ­mas album, Christ­mas In the Heart — his first char­i­ty album, as the pro­ceeds from all sales are being donat­ed to hunger char­i­ties, accord­ing to his web­site — is a fair con­sid­er­a­tion of the music itself: where it sits in the con­text of Dylan’s over­all out­put, and how it relates to the decades-old genre of Christ­mas record­ings by pop­u­lar music artists.

For the last twen­ty years or so, and espe­cial­ly over the last decade, Bob Dylan has been hon­ing a par­tic­u­lar sound, espe­cial­ly in his live appear­ances — about 100 con­certs per year on what’s been termed his Nev­er End­ing Tour.” Dylan’s aes­thet­ic, which bears almost no rela­tion­ship to that of any oth­er artist in con­tem­po­rary music, is a unique fusion of his own style of rock music (which in itself is a blend of many gen­res, includ­ing blues, folk, coun­try, rock­a­bil­ly, gospel, pop, and R&B) with pre-rock influ­ences, such as west­ern swing, blue­grass, jump blues, jazz, and Tin Pan Alley. More eth­nic sounds have been creep­ing into Dylan’s work as of late, too, includ­ing the pol­ka rhythms of his north­ern Min­neso­ta youth, as well as Tex-Mex and French chan­sons, all of which gained promi­nence on his enter­tain­ing album released ear­li­er this year, Togeth­er Through Life.

Seth Rogov­oy – Pho­to by Scott Barrow

Giv­en the revival of Dylan’s inter­est in pre-rock musi­cal tra­di­tions, it makes sense that he would now, from a musi­cal point of view, tack­le the time­less genre of hol­i­day music, which in and of itself spans mul­ti­ple styles and sounds. (Indeed, it’s not for noth­ing that the back cov­er of the CD book­let sports a pho­to-illus­tra­tion of the 1950s pin-up queen, Bet­ty Page, dressed in a scanty San­ta Claus out­fit). On Christ­mas In the Heart, Dylan rev­els in the genre’s eclec­ti­cism, turn­ing in a bluesy ver­sion of The Christ­mas Blues,” a pol­ka-infused Must Be San­ta,” and a trop­i­cal take on Christ­mas Island” (as my son said dis­be­liev­ing­ly upon first hear­ing this, There’s such a thing as Hawai­ian Christ­mas music?”). Dylan even has a go at the 13th-cen­tu­ry hymn, O’ Come All Ye Faith­ful (Adeste Fide­les),” tack­ling the first verse in the orig­i­nal Latin, Bing Cros­by-style.

Dylan has tak­en his licks for some of his less-inspired for­ays into the hol­i­day-music tra­di­tion. The album employs a corps of back­up singers who trade vers­es with Dylan on sev­er­al num­bers, and instead of sound­ing like the soul­ful gospel choirs on his albums of the late 1970s and 1980s, these arrange­ments sound more like the sug­ary-sweet Ray Con­niff singers, mak­ing for, to say the least, an odd jux­ta­po­si­tion with Dylan’s crag­gy vocals.

A word about those vocals are in order: Dylan’s voice, even at its best, is a top­ic wor­thy of a blog­post series of its own, maybe even a book. Suf­fice it to say that even for those (like me) who sin­cere­ly believe that Dylan is a mas­ter­ful singer who phras­es with the best of them, Dylan’s voice has nev­er sound­ed worse than it does here: raspy, phlegmy, down­right scary. It’s hard to imag­ine any­one play­ing this music at a real hol­i­day par­ty; if Christ­mas music is sup­posed to evoke warm, hol­i­day feel­ings, this sounds more like the sound­track to Christ­mas cour­tesy of Ebenez­er Scrooge (even if this is a very un-Scrooge-like char­i­ty effort).

And with only a few excep­tions (“Must Be San­ta,” Here Comes San­ta Claus”), the instru­men­tal arrange­ments are unin­spired, eschew­ing as they do the fine tra­di­tion of rock­ing hol­i­day num­bers such as Tom Pet­tys Christ­mas All Over Again,” Bruce Springsteen’s San­ta Claus Is Com­ing to Town,” or any one of many fun ver­sions of Jin­gle Bell Rock,” any of which Dylan could have eas­i­ly imprint­ed with his own idio­syn­crat­ic stamp.

Seth Rogov­oy is the author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mys­tic, Poet, due from Scrib­n­er on Nov. 24, 2009. Please vis­it Rogovoy’s offi­cial web­site.